alleges a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. The fifth claim alleges a violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. The sixth claim, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that defendants deprived plaintiffs of their First Amendment free speech rights. Finally, the seventh claim alleges intentional racial discrimination in violation of Article 1, Section 11 of the New York State Constitution. For each cause of action, plaintiffs seek compensatory damages in the amount of $ 350 million, as well as punitive damages. In total, then, plaintiffs seek $ 2.45 billion in compensatory damages. Plaintiffs also seek a permanent injunction preventing defendants from establishing a group home for the mentally retarded at One Shore View Circle.
I. Standards of Review
A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motions
In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must presume all factual allegations in the complaint to be true, and must view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Ferran v. Town of Nassau, 11 F.3d 21, 22 (2d Cir. 1993). The Court may consider only (1) the facts stated on the face of the complaint, (2) documents appended to the complaint, (3) documents incorporated in the complaint by reference, and (4) matters of which judicial notice may be taken. Hertz Corp. v. City of New York, 1 F.3d 121, 125 (2d Cir. 1993); Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991). However, "if the allegations of a complaint are contradicted by documents made a part thereof, the document controls and the court need not accept as true the allegations of the complaint." Sazerac Co. v. Falk, 861 F. Supp. 253, 257 (S.D.N.Y. 1994); accord International Customs Assocs., Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 893 F. Supp. 1251, 1255 n. 2 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).
"Dismissal of the complaint is proper only where 'it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Id. (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957)). However, "[a] complaint containing only conclusory, vague, or general allegations of conspiracy to deprive a person of constitutional rights cannot withstand a motion to dismiss." Leon v. Murphy, 988 F.2d 303, 311 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Detko v. Blimpies Restaurant, 924 F. Supp. 555, 557 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).
B. Rule 56(b) Motion
Summary judgment "is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed 'to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 1). Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists if, based on the record as a whole, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed and all inferences must be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. City of Yonkers v. Otis Elevator Co., 844 F.2d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 1988).
The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Upon the movant's satisfying that burden, the onus then shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250. At this stage, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). Bald assertions or conjecture unsupported by evidence are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991); Western World Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990).
II. Eleventh Amendment
The State Defendants correctly argue that they cannot be sued in their official capacity for monetary damages in federal court. In opposition, plaintiffs contend that "the State's reliance on Papasan v. Allain, [478 U.S. 265, 92 L. Ed. 2d 209, 106 S. Ct. 2932 (1986)] is misplaced. It forgot to read page 277 of that case which states: 'Thus, the official, although acting in his official capacity, may be sued in federal court.'" (Pls.' Mem. in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss at 10.) It is plaintiffs' attorney who needs to read more carefully: a long line of cases, Papasan included, have held that the Eleventh Amendment bars federal court damages actions against states and state officials in their official capacities. See, e.g., Papasan, 478 U.S. at 276-78; Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169, 87 L. Ed. 2d 114, 105 S. Ct. 3099 (1985); Spencer v. Doe, 139 F.3d 107, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 4040, 1998 WL 90841, at *3 (2d Cir. 1998); Farid v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 921 (2d Cir. 1988).
This bar, however, does not apply to plaintiffs' Title VI claim. See Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 116 S. Ct. 2092, 2099, 135 L. Ed. 2d 486 (1996) (Congress expressly abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment immunity for Title VI claims); Franklin v. Gwinnett County Pub. Sch., 503 U.S. 60, 72-73, 117 L. Ed. 2d 208, 112 S. Ct. 1028 (1992) (same). To the extent, then, that plaintiffs seek retrospective, monetary relief against the State Defendants in their official capacities (other than for a Title VI violation), their motion to dismiss is granted.
III. Equal Protection Claims
Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985(3) alleging intentional racial discrimination in violation of their equal protection rights. Specifically, plaintiffs assert that defendants "jointly conspired to and did unlawfully, maliciously and intentionally steer a Community Residence for the mentally retarded sponsored by St. Agatha to be established and relocated to 1 Shore View Circle" for racially discriminatory reasons. (Am. Compl. P 27; see also id. PP 304-05.)
Section 1983 provides a cause of action for persons deprived of their constitutional or statutory rights under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Kalina v. Fletcher, 139 L. Ed. 2d 471, 118 S. Ct. 502, 506 (1997). Section 1985(3) makes actionable a conspiracy whose purpose is to deprive any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws. See 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 268-69, 122 L. Ed. 2d 34, 113 S. Ct. 753 (1993). Section 1981 provides that all persons shall have the same right "to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and properties as is enjoyed by white citizens . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a); see also General Bldg. Contractors Ass'n v. Pennsylvania United Eng'rs & Constructors, Inc., 458 U.S. 375, 73 L. Ed. 2d 835, 102 S. Ct. 3141 (1982).
In order to prevail under these statutes, plaintiffs must establish purposeful or intentional discrimination. See Bray, 506 U.S. at 268-69 (42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)); Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 186, 105 L. Ed. 2d 132, 109 S. Ct. 2363 (1989) (42 U.S.C. § 1981); Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265, 50 L. Ed. 2d 450, 97 S. Ct. 555 (1977) (42 U.S.C. § 1983). The racial animus must have been a "motivating factor" behind the challenged conduct. See Bray, 506 U.S. at 265-66; United States v. Yonkers, 96 F.3d 600, 611-12 (2d Cir. 1996). Discriminatory intent "implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. . . . It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected or reaffirmed a particular course of action at least in part 'because of,' not merely 'in spite of,' its adverse effects upon an identifiable group." Personnel Adm'r of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 279, 60 L. Ed. 2d 870, 99 S. Ct. 2282 (1979); see also Bray, 506 U.S. at 271-72; Eagleston v. Guido, 41 F.3d 865, 878 (2d Cir. 1994).
The Amended Complaint, including some 600 pages of annexed exhibits, simply does not allege facts that would support a reasonable inference of intentional racial discrimination. Instead, it puts forth unsupported accusations and conclusions of a widespread and invidious conspiracy to relocate St. Agatha's group home to plaintiffs' "minority neighborhood." As will be seen, plaintiffs' case rests solely on bald assertions and quantum leaps of inference.
In a nutshell, plaintiffs' argument is as follows. First, plaintiffs assert that at the time St. Agatha's group home was founded in 1979, the defendants entered into some kind of "unlawful agreement" whereby the Village would possess "absolute control" of the number and location of group homes in the Village. (See Am. Compl. PP 32-46.) Not only does plaintiffs' own evidence reveal the faults of this allegation, (see Exh. 5 to Am. Compl.; Village Defs.' Reply Mem. at 5-8), but the allegation itself, even if true, has no bearing on the issue of racial discrimination.
Second, plaintiffs take issue with the way in which the April 6, 1994 Padavan hearing was conducted and with the evidence on which Commissioner Maul based his decision. (See Am. Compl. PP 208-59.) Even assuming, arguendo, procedural irregularities, nothing in the Amended Complaint or the attached exhibits even remotely suggests racial motivation.
Third, plaintiffs contend -- and this is what their argument really boils down to -- that "the defendants knew that the Shore View Circle cul-de-sac neighborhood was the non-white minority isolated neighborhood of the Village of Pelham Manor white community," (Am. Compl. P 301; see also id. PP 79, 194), and that they acted "in accordance with community pressures that they knew were racially motivated," (id. P 184). This argument is fundamentally flawed. To begin with, plaintiffs are being less than genuine (at the very least) in describing their block as a "non-white minority isolated neighborhood." Not only are half of the plaintiffs caucasian, but plaintiffs have chosen to exclude from their "neighborhood" two Shore View Circle addresses at which at least three additional caucasians reside. These other, white residents were among those who opposed the proposed relocation. (See Exh. 54 to Am. Compl.) Plaintiffs' attempt to exclude those properties on the ground that they are primarily accessed by another road and are more elevated than the other homes is spurious. Moreover, plaintiffs' own exhibits clearly reflect that Shore View Circle is not "isolated," and this one street does not constitute a "neighborhood."
Further, and more importantly, plaintiffs have alleged no facts, and have provided no evidence, from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude that any actions taken or sentiments expressed by the Pelham Manor community or any of the defendants with respect to the relocation was motivated in any way by racial animus. It may be that many residents of Pelham Manor, including village trustees, did not want a group home for the mentally retarded on their own blocks. But by no means does that assumption mean that the home was relocated to plaintiffs' street, as opposed to any other street, for racial reasons.
On the contrary, plaintiffs' own evidence strongly indicates the defendants had perfectly reasonable and benign reasons for their actions. To begin with, the Village Defendants actually opposed the relocation to Shore View Road. Plaintiffs' exhibits show that the Village wanted the group home to remain at a rental property, such as the James Street site, for tax purposes. Relocation of the home to One Shore View Circle, which St. Agatha intended to purchase, would mean a loss of tax revenue. This tax concern was one of the reasons the Village supported the James Street location back in 1979. (See Exh. 5 to Am. Compl.) Moreover, the Village Defendants fought the proposed relocation not only at its initial stages, but opposed St. Agatha in a Padavan hearing, a state court litigation, and a HUD proceeding. In addition, it was St. Agatha, and not the Village, that selected One Shore View Circle; indeed, St. Agatha arranged to purchase the property without prior notice to or involvement by the Village. (See Am. Compl. PP 141-43.)
With respect to the St. Agatha Defendants, plaintiffs make much ado about the alleged falsities in the statement Ekizian submitted at the Padavan hearing. Leaving aside that the evidence cited by plaintiffs does not fully support their contention that Ekizian lied to Commissioner Maul, several of Ekizian's legitimate reasons for relocating the group home remain unchallenged (including, for example, St. Agatha's desire to own the property on which the home would be located).
Moreover, St. Agatha desired to move onto plaintiffs' allegedly minority street. In light of this, plaintiffs make the outlandish claim that St. Agatha placed its group home residents in plaintiffs' assertedly "minority, non-white, isolated neighborhood" in order to "deprive the mentally retarded/developmentally disabled residents from association with the white residents of the [Village]." (Am. Compl. P 328.) Plaintiffs' contention that St. Agatha somehow wanted to "punish" the residents of the group home by relocating them to a minority neighborhood is entirely devoid of reason, logic, or support. In short, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the St. Agatha Defendants harbored any racial animus.
Finally, there is an equal dearth of support for plaintiffs' contention that the State Defendants were in any way racially motivated. Even assuming, arguendo, that there were procedural irregularities in conducting the Padavan hearing and issuing the Commissioner's report,
plaintiffs have alleged no facts from which racial discrimination on the part of the State Defendants could possibly be inferred.
Plaintiffs mistake the quantity of their evidence with its quality. They argue: "Any reasonable person, any ethical person, any person who values the rule of law cannot but admit that 600 pages of evidentiary material are no mere illusions and conjecture." (Pls.' Mem. in Opp. to State Defs.' & St. Agatha's Mot. to Dismiss at 8.) On the contrary, plaintiffs' voluminous submissions provide no more evidence of intentional discrimination than would a submission of a 600-page telephone book, dictionary, or Sears catalogue. In fact, the information contained in those publications might be less damaging to plaintiffs' case than the documents they did submit, which fully support a conclusion that defendants were not racially motivated. The equal protection claims are based on a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Accordingly, defendants' motions are granted with respect to the First, Second, and Third Causes of Action.
For the same reasons, plaintiffs' equal protection claim under the New York State Constitution is also dismissed. Although, as discussed below, we dismiss all of plaintiffs' federal claims, we exercise out discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) to retain supplemental jurisdiction over this state claim based on judicial economy and the close relationship between the federal and state equal protection claims. See Lacoparra v. Pergament Home Ctrs., Inc., 982 F. Supp. 213, 225 (S.D.N.Y. 1997); Aquinas v. Federal Express Corp., 940 F. Supp. 73, 79 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). "The breadth of coverage under the equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions is equal." Pinnacle Nursing Home v. Axelrod, 928 F.2d 1306, 1317 (2d Cir. 1991). Both require proof of intentional discrimination. See Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State, 86 N.Y.2d 307, 631 N.Y.S.2d 565, 573, 655 N.E.2d 661, 669 (1995). Defendants' motions are therefore granted with respect to the Seventh Cause of Action.
IV. First Amendment Claim
Plaintiffs also claim that they were deprived of their right to free speech when they were denied the opportunity to speak at the Padavan hearing. However, plaintiffs have provided no support for the proposition that individual residents are entitled to speak at Padavan hearings. On the contrary, under the Mental Hygiene Law only the municipality and sponsoring agency -- and not individual community members -- are parties to a Padavan hearing. Here, plaintiffs admit that they were permitted to present their views to the Village Board at various public meetings. (See, e.g., Am. Compl. P 340.) It was the Village's prerogative to assess the validity of plaintiffs' views and to have its own, official position at the Padavan hearing differ from those views. Accordingly, the defendants' motions are granted with respect to the Sixth Cause of Action.
V. Title VI Claim
Plaintiffs attempt to assert a claim on behalf of the residents of St. Agatha's group home pursuant to Title VI, Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from administering such grants in a racially discriminatory manner. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. Plaintiffs claim that defendants' allegedly discriminatory conduct "will negatively impact and harm [the] mentally retarded/developmentally disabled residents by isolating them from the white residents of the . . . Village of Pelham Manor." (Am. Compl. P 326.)
Plaintiffs clearly lack standing to bring a Title VI claim on behalf of the group home residents. As a general prudential rule, a plaintiff may not claim standing to vindicate the constitutional or statutory rights of third parties. See Secretary of State of Md. v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U.S. 947, 955, 81 L. Ed. 2d 786, 104 S. Ct. 2839 (1984); Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Group, Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 80, 57 L. Ed. 2d 595, 98 S. Ct. 2620 (1978); Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 113-14, 49 L. Ed. 2d 826, 96 S. Ct. 2868 (1976); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499, 45 L. Ed. 2d 343, 95 S. Ct. 2197 (1975); Kane v. Johns-Manville Corp., 843 F.2d 636, 643-44 (2d Cir. 1988). As the United States Supreme Court has explained:
Federal courts must hesitate before resolving a controversy, even one within their constitutional powers to resolve, on the basis of the rights of third persons not parties to the litigation. The reasons are two. First, the courts should not adjudicate such rights unnecessarily, and it may be that in fact the holders of those rights either do not wish to assert them, or will be able to enjoy them regardless of whether the in-court litigant is successful or not. . . . Second, third parties themselves usually will be the best proponents of their own rights. The courts depend on effective advocacy, and therefore should prefer to construe legal rights only when the most effective advocates of those rights are before them.
Singleton, 428 U.S. at 113-14 (internal citations omitted); accord Duke Power Co., 438 U.S. at 80.
Based on these considerations, the Supreme Court has "narrowly limited the circumstances in which one party will be given standing to assert the legal rights of another." Id. A plaintiff may assert a claim on behalf of third parties only where (1) the third parties have suffered an "injury in fact," (2) the plaintiff has a "close relation" to the third parties such that the plaintiff will effectively represent the third parties' interests, and (3) the third parties are hindered in their ability to protect their own interests. See Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 410-11, 113 L. Ed. 2d 411, 111 S. Ct. 1364 (1991); Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U.S. at 956; Singleton, 428 U.S. at 114-15; Kane, 843 F.2d at 643-44. Here, even assuming arguendo that plaintiffs have met the first element (which is highly doubtful), they have not and cannot establish that their interests are closely allied with those of the group home, or that the residents of the home are unable to protect their own rights.
Indeed, the Court cannot envision litigants less likely to serve as effective proponents of the rights of the group home's residents.
Therefore, because plaintiffs lack standing to assert a Title VI claim on behalf of the group home residents, defendants' motions are granted with respect to the Fourth Cause of Action.
VI. Fair Housing Act Claim
Plaintiffs also put forth a claim on behalf of the group home residents under the Fair Housing Act, which generally prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604. Again, however, plaintiffs lack third-party standing for the reasons just explained. Accordingly, defendants' motions are granted with respect to the Fifth Cause of Action.
VII. Attorneys' Fees
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), a court may, in its discretion, award reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing parties in a civil rights action. Where the defendants are the prevailing parties, such awards are disfavored and may be granted only if the plaintiffs' claims are "frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless." Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 422, 54 L. Ed. 2d 648, 98 S. Ct. 694 (1978); Rounseville v. Zahl, 13 F.3d 625, 632 (2d Cir. 1994).
Additionally, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits sanctions to be imposed on an attorney for filing a claim containing frivolous legal arguments or factual allegations utterly lacking in evidentiary support. See O'Brien v. Alexander, 101 F.3d 1479, 1488-90 (2d Cir. 1996). Although the parties themselves are not liable under Rule 11 for legally frivolous claims, they may be sanctioned for totally meritless factual allegations. See Nyitray v. Johnson, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1791, No. 96-6150, 1998 WL 67651, at *14 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 1998).
Although plaintiffs and their attorney have approached the line between colorable and sanctionable assertions, the Court finds that they have not crossed it. Accordingly, the request of the Village and St. Agatha Defendants for attorneys' fees or other sanctions is denied.
For the reasons discussed above, the Court grants the Village Defendants' motion for summary judgment and the State and St. Agatha Defendants' motion to dismiss, but declines to award attorneys' fees to defendants. An appropriate judgment shall be entered by the Clerk of the Court.
Dated: White Plains, NY
April 3, 1998
William C. Conner
Senior United States District Judge